‘The Gifted’s’ Emma Dumont On Why We Need X-Men On TV Right Now

The Gifted’s Emma Dumont is a die-hard Rick and Morty fan. It’s something I discover about halfway through our interview following the show’s fall finale when the actress starts doing a deep dive in her character’s complicated relationship with her father, who just so happens to be one of the most notorious villains in the X-Men universe.

Dumont plays Lorna Dane, a.k.a. Polaris, on Fox’s new comic series. The show follows Lorna as she helps lead a Mutant Underground — basically a secret safe house for persecuted mutants — and fights back against the Sentinel Services, a government-funded army tasked with hunting down people with abilities. The mutants on the show aren’t ones you’d likely comes across in Fox’s film division. Most are second-tier names from the comics or the offspring of more famous X-Men, like Lorna. And though the stakes don’t seem as high as they do on the big screen – there’s less apocalyptic action and more run-ins with mid-level government baddies and deranged scientists looking to test and torture kids with powers — the series has found itself uniquely positioned to reach a wider audience and tackle more “real-life” issues thanks to its smaller scale.

We chatted with Dumont about her character’s complicated past, the strange places she takes inspiration from when playing Lorna, and why her show isn’t afraid to tackle the tough issues.

You play Lorna, a mutant who can control metal. She also leads this Mutant Underground, she has bipolar disorder, and she just found out she was pregnant at the beginning of the season. She’s not complicated at all really.

[Laughs.] No, the exact opposite. This girl has a lot going on. “Challenging” would be the word I would use. Lorna’s upset in a lot of scenes and we have to decide what she’s upset about in each scene. Overall, she’s upset about the current political climate in the X-Men world but she’s also upset because she has a baby that might potentially be killed [one day] and she’s upset because her boyfriend and her don’t have the same political views and she’s upset because her father, who is exactly like her in every way, purposely chooses to never be in her life. The fact that she is mentally ill, but because of prejudice and bigotry she can’t get any medical care — there’s just a lot going on and it’s really important, I think, to understand why she’s upset, she has her reasons.

Well it’s nice that you guys put so much thought into that. It’d be easy to just label her “crazy” and be done with it. That’s what plenty of comic book series have done in the past.

Look, I get it. She’s from 1968. It was a different time. It was all men writers. I get it. But I’m so sick of female characters [written] like, “Yeah, she’s the crazy one. She’s the crazy girlfriend. She’s the crazy mutant. She has the anger issues.” No. First of all, if I were to call Lorna crazy, I mean crazy in the best way. I’m definitely not referring to her mental illness because that would be horribly offensive. But she’s not just crazy. She has so much going on. Just because she has gusto and passion and she takes a stand for what she believes in … People need to stop referring to her as the crazy girl because she isn’t, she’s so much more.

It’s a big show of faith to take this X-Men universe and finally transition it to TV. Do you think it’s made a difference in the kind of stories you guys tell?

Yeah, I think TV is the perfect place for the X-Men universe. The films are great. I’m a big fan of the films, we all are, but that’s on a really large scale, so we want to see how these things affect everyday people. I mean, families being split apart, you know that’s happening right now and people don’t get to see that every day. Unfortunately, some people have to live it every day, but the people who don’t get to see it, see it on our show. The TV world makes it so that we can take a narrower view and really magnify these specific things that are wrong with… Nazis, pretty much. I feel like I use that word a lot, but I use it because I think it’s a powerful word. It makes people listen. I can say prejudice all I want, but people aren’t really going to get how wrong it is until you use harsh words.

Yeah I’m not a fan of giving people a pass and using words like neo-Nazi or alt-right.

I know, yeah. Alt-right? No, you’re a Nazi. Come on, let’s just say what it is and that’s sort of I think, the deal that Lorna has with Reed Strucker. I mean, she’s like, “Okay dude, so because your kids are a minority now, now all of a sudden you’re going be nice? No, You hurt people for so long, and you do not get a pass because all of a sudden you understand.”

The show has dealt with some really specific, controversial issues. Do you guys discuss that as a cast when you get the scripts? Is it something you’re always aware of?

We’re not blind to it. We’re not also not being discreet about it. Our thing is called the mutant underground. You know what I mean? Like, hello. I mean, [the bad guys] are called the SS. We’re not being secretive about it at all. I remember Jamie Chung, who plays Blink, and I were talking about a scene where they were featuring a mob of anti-mutant protestors holding Tiki torches. You understand what that is and we understand that that’s current events and that’s the real world that we live in now, which sucks. I don’t think we’ve ever had a day where we’re like, “Oh, we’re just making a fun, family program about superheroes.” No, we’re going to do a show about the world we’re living in. It’s so interesting because the show was actually created pre-presidential election. It was developed pre-election and now it is being made post-election, so I think everything just has higher stakes and more meaning.

How much are we going to learn about Lorna’s relationship with her father, Magneto?

During the final three episodes, we take an in depth look at Polaris, her lineage and what that means for her. Her relationship with her dad is awful. She doesn’t have one and she can’t stand him. She can’t stand him for two reasons. For one, what he’s done to her, how he’s abandoned her, even though they’re so similar, even though they struggle with the same things. Then on the other end, she just hates the way he’s depicted by the mutants, the way they represent him for being a bad guy, for being evil. He’s someone who would hurt humans. To Polaris, she’s like, “Well yeah I would hurt a human too if they were killing a mutant,” you know what I mean? She’s suddenly questioning “Am I a villain too because I believe in those same things?”

This is going to be so silly, but there’s a show called Rick and Morty. Do you know Rick and Morty?

Of course.

Okay, I love Rick and Morty. There’s a really dumb episode that’s about Beth and Rick and there’s a line where Beth goes to Rick and says, “Dad, I spent my whole life trying to convince myself that you’re a good guy and that I’m nothing like you.” Then Rick goes, “But what you’ve realized is that I’m not a very good guy and you’re exactly like me.” I think those two lines are a perfect representation of Polaris and Magneto’s relationship. She knows he’s not a good person but she tries to convince herself every day that he’s a good guy, but also that she’s nothing like him. It’s so random and weird but I think about that scene so much.

Rick and Morty doesn’t get enough credit. It’s a dark show, like BoJack Horseman or Big Mouth. Animated shows have gotten deep in 2017.

I’ve seen every episode of Big Mouth. It’s the weirdest thing because kids should watch that. It’s pretty dead on and as a kid, I think anyone would benefit from seeing their situation portrayed in a show. Even though I think it depicts what kids that age go through pretty well, it’s technically for adults, which is so weird to me.

I have strong opinions that Big Mouth should be taught in school.

I think it should be part of sex-ed. I am not even kidding. I think if people were more educated we’d have less problems.